Friday, April 4, 2014
Equal Exchange is cooperative that sells products with fair trade ingredients and/or labor. Many of these are products where the farmers that grow them live in poverty, lack educational opportunities. Things like coffee, tea, bananas and of course, cocoa. These are all grown in tropical regions and depend on a high degree of manual labor. With the chocolate industry, there’s the added issue of slavery of hundreds of thousands of children on farms, mostly in Western Africa.
Equal Exchange also makes its own chocolate, which uses fair trade certified ingredients, not just ethically sourced cocoa. The result isn’t charity, these are real, sustainable products that you can buy at a fair price that are actually good quality as well.
They’ve been making chocolate for a while, but only more recently has it become more mainstream ... and now they have holiday packaged foil-wrapped eggs.
Equal Exchange Milk Chocolate Foil Eggs are 41% cacao, which is as dark as some semisweet chocolate sold these days. The ingredients sound delicious: cacao butter, whole milk powder, cane sugar, chocolate liquor, unrefined white cane sugar, ground hazelnuts and vanilla. The ingredients are also fair trade (except for the hazelnuts and milk) and all organic. There’s no soy, no lecithin, no other fillers.
The melt is smooth and creamy. It’s not at all grainy but very fatty and thick on the tongue. The flavor is interesting and not something I initially liked. It’s deep and not terribly sweet. The milk flavors are definitely more on the powdered milk, flirting with the cheesy side. But the roasted flavors of the hazelnuts balances that. The chocolate itself is woodsy with a sort of green banana note to it. It sounds weird.
I can’t stop eating these. I actually did stop, when I ran out. Then I realized they also sent this to me:
Yes, that’s over a pound and a half of mini milk chocolate bars. In a handy dispenser box. I have it on my desk, like it’s dispensing tissues during allergy season.
The Equal Exchange Dark Chocolate Foil Eggs are also quite rich. They feature the same high fat, though in this case there are no nuts and no dairy at all. The 55% cacao content is rounded out only with sugar and vanilla beans. Like the Milk Chocolate, it’s all organic, but in this case it’s also all fair trade certified. There’s no soy in there, no GMOs though there may be traces of milk, peanuts, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios and/or pecans. Though it doesn’t say on the ingredients, they should be gluten free. Finally, they’re vegan. While there’s not a lot in there, there are a lot of folks these could satisfy. ]
The 55% cacao content makes these quite mild. They smell woodsy, with a light cherry note. The chocolate has a good, silky melt with a light dry finish to it. The flavor profile is all over the map. I taste coffee, cherries, figs and bananas and sometimes even a hint of malt ... though that could have been its storage adjacent to my milk chocolate pieces. There’s a light bitterness in there, nothing too difficult to conquer, but might be enough to keep children away.
You could put these in front of anyone without any information about the origins or disposition and they’d never know that this is more transparently source, ethically accountable stuff. It’s just tasty. As you can tell, I preferred the milk chocolate version, but the dark is a wonderful middle of the road chocolate that’s not too dark for wide appeal.
The only hesitations for most folks will be where to find them and how much you pay. Equal Exchange has them on their website for $6.99 per package, which is pretty steep compared to their very competitively priced bars. (For some reason foil wrapping just amps up the price of any chocolate, good quality or bad.) Some Whole Foods Markets and other natural product stores may carry them as well. The fall back is always the little mini-bars, which are also extremely cute and a bit better deal per ounce, but come in this 23.8 ounce box (yes, a pound a half) for $35.00 plus shipping. It’s hard to compare that to R.M. Palmer (which isn’t even real chocolate, let alone sustainably sourced), but Godiva or Lindt may be a good comparison on both price and ingredients.
On Monday I’ll have a review of Kosher for Passover chocolates, also from Equal Exchange.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Lindt Gold Bunny Hazelnut is a new introduction that’s sadly not available in the United States. I saw an announcement about it a couple of months ago and put it on my London shopping list. Not only did I find it, they were on sale, two for £5 ... which is still pretty pricey at $4.25 with the exchange rate at the time.
Honestly, I never read past the name of the product and I was sold. So, I didn’t know quite what to expect, I simply assumed that this was going to be an giandiua product, a sort of milk chocolate with hazelnut paste blended in for an extra rich texture.
The bottom label on the foil covered rabbit explained that it was milk chocolate with hazelnut pieces. It’s actually 20% hazelnuts while the chocolate is 30% cocoa solids and then another 14% milk solids. In addition, there’s a touch of malt extract (I don’t know what that means when it comes to gluten status). There’s no actual allergen statement, just bolded items on the ingredients which include dairy, soy, hazelnuts, and barley plus traces of almonds.
The bunny looks a little odd, with the variations in the color, but oh, my goodness it smells great. It’s a roasted hazelnut scent that just makes my mouth water. The ears are nearly solid, so the first bite was quite a treat. The chocolate is a bit softer than the Lindt Dark, though their regular Milk Bunny is also on the soft side and also has a touch of malt.
The note of malt is not completely overshadowed by the hazelnut either. It just moderates the sticky sweetness of the Lindt milk chocolate, as do the generous hazelnuts. The hazelnuts are crisp and crunchy with a macadamia or coconut crispness. They’re quite small bits (as they’d need to be for a molded item like this).
This is amazingly good. Easy to eat, filling but not too sweet. It’s expensive ...but really cute and very well executed. I would love to see these introduced in the United States next year. I was poking around online and saw that they may be available in Canada and there’s always a few eBay sellers that do European confectionery imports.
Monday, March 31, 2014
Alongside the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Eggs on shelves this year are the new Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Covered Almond Eggs.
They’re not something particularly Easter-themed, as chocolate covered almonds are already rather egg shaped. But they’re still a welcome item, since some chocolate covered nuts sound less sweet than the many other marshmallowy, sugar-crusted and white chocolate items that typify the holiday fare.
They were expensive, as real nut items often are. I picked up this 7.1 ounce bag for $3.29, which is on par with what I’d usually pay for an item from Whole Foods ... yet I bought this at Target.
They look great. Dark and glossy. They varied in size quite a bit, from a peanut all the way up to an almond in the shell. I expected this, because almonds themselves vary.
The chocolate itself is Hershey’s tangy, cheesy, fudgy chocolate ... it’s odd. But it goes well with the almonds, which are well chosen, nicely crunchy and good quality. I ate the whole bag in about two days, so I must have liked them, but I didn’t feel satisfied by any particular element. The chocolate is gritty and has that Hershey’s burp note ... the almonds are good, but the fact that I spent over $3 on less than half a pound of a Hershey’s chocolate product was a little odd.
Hershey’s had a version of these in their Pieces line that had a candy shell which added to the texture experience, but I haven’t see those in stores for a while.
If you’re a lover of the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almond bar and wanted an Easter version, I think these ratios are good.
The allergen warning only says that these may contain traces of peanuts. They are made with soy, dairy and almonds as well. There’s no note on gluten or wheat at all.
Thursday, March 20, 2014
Peeps were originally an Easter treat, a small dollop of marshmallow sanded with colored sugar to look like a chick. Now they come in many shapes and are released for all the major holidays. The new Party Cake Peeps are a year round Peep item from Just Born where you get to select the celebration.
I noticed they’re not birthday cake themed, just party, so they could be used for engagements, housewarmings, baby showers, retirement parties, graduations ... the list is endless.
The package describes them as a way to bring home the best part of the celebration—without the cleanup! Enjoy the delicious flavor of the party in each yummy marshmallow bite!
They’re not just turquoise blue, they’re covered in flecks of candy confetti. The confetti is just little bit of transparent, different-colored candy shavings. They come in a set of two trays with five conjoined Peeps in a set. They’re not individually sealed, so once you open the package, the clock is ticking for staleness (which may be good, depending on how you prefer your Peeps).
They smell like a cross between microwave popcorn and coconut tanning lotion. It’s not overpowering, but definitely noticeably different from regular Peeps.
They’re Peep textured, soft and bouncy, easy to bite. The sugary grain was not too much, so it didn’t make a big mess. The inside of the Peep is just lightly creamy colored, like a cake. The flavor is marshmallowy, more vanilla than butter but with that toasted sugar flavor like an Angel Food Cake.
Overall, I liked them, perhaps better than a traditional Peep, except that the blue coloring had a bitter aftertaste.
It’s nice to see a sort of generic, all year Peep on the rotation. I’d like them more if they had that little dip of chocolate on the base like some others, but I haven’t tried the Vanilla Creme to compare. As for its simulation of cake ... there’s nothing baked about this, nothing that tastes like cake at all. They’re not even shaped like little cupcakes. It’s just a fun name.
The next flavor craze they should do: Frozen Yogurt Peeps ... each Peep would be shaped like a twisted dollop of FroYo and you can sprinkle chocolate chips, Cap’n Crunch or crushed Butterfingers on them.
Or Whoopie Pie Peeps: You’d have a two chocolate Peep disks with another vanilla Peep disk in the center.
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
I’m not surprised that Russell Stover is expanding its cake-themed candies, as they already have a Cookie Dough Egg and multiple holiday version of Red Velvet Cake. This spring they’ve introduced three new eggs all with cake themes: Carrot Cake, Birthday Cake and Wedding Cake.
The thing that’s so odd about them is that they’re eggs. None of these flavors are particularly Easter themed. In fact, I find the idea of a Birthday Cake flavored egg for Easter downright odd. Carrot Cake is the only one that makes a modicum of sense, since carrots are associated with rabbits, which are associated with Easter.
Russell Stover Carrot Cake Egg covered in White Chocolate is only one ounce. It looks the same as the other Russell Stover egg packaging, green foil and a white emblem on the front with a little bow and the Russell Stover logo. There are elements of an amber orange and a slice of cake featured on the lower right.
As with the other cake and dough eggs that Russell Stover started making, it’s an odd sort of bon bon. The filling actually contains cake mix. So inside is an unbaked cake mix that’s creamed together with some milk and butter to create a filling that’s then molded into an egg shape inside a white chocolate shell. Kind of weird.
It smells very sweet with a little note of cinnamon and nutmeg along with some sort of dairy milk. It’s a little flat, so it’s easy to bite. It’s extremely sweet, but the filling has a sort of cookie dough consistency. It’s a little grainy, as I can feel the sugar and the raw flour in the center. It’s not pasty, as there’s enough fat in there to let it dissolve and melt like a bon bon should. The carrot notes are a bit lost, it’s the spice cake flavors that really create the reality.
Overall, aside from its sweetness, it’s pretty good. I can’t say that I’ve ever really wanted a carrot cake bonbon, so this doesn’t fill a hole in my heart. I’d say that some pecans would enhance it, but they’re an unlikely addition at this price point.
Russell Stover Birthday Cake Egg in Milk Chocolate with Sprinkles doesn’t look much like a birthday item. Sure, there’s a bow on it, but there’s a bow on all of them, and they’re not for anyone’s birthday.
This egg feels bigger than the others, though the wrapper says it’s also one ounce. The cake featured in the picture is a yellow cake with a chocolate frosting. Just as the carrot cake version lists cake mix, this one lists Yellow Cake Mix in the ingredients (also white chocolate, even though it’s covered in milk chocolate).
The egg is not molded like the others, instead its enrobed, like the Cookie Dough Egg I reviewed last year. There are little sprinkles stuck to it, though I think there were just as many rattling around in the package when I unwrapped it.
I don’t care for sprinkles, they look pretty and all, but they’re a mess. They don’t taste good and they just leave evidence everywhere that you’ve not only been indulging, but indulging in something with sprinkles on it.
The egg itself smells a bit like dough, it has that uncooked batter note to it. The center is soft and easy to bite, the chocolate stays together, but the sprinkles rarely make it into my mouth. The milk chocolate is merely passable, it’s not strong but does have a sort of malty element that stands up to the otherwise bland battercream. Though I don’t have a cookie dough version right here, I recall this being much different except that the center is a little softer and less crumbly.
If you’re a cake person, sprinkle person or your birthday happens to fall around the time we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, this may be the perfect candy for you.
Russell Stover Wedding Cake covered in White Chocolate is an extremely sweet confection. (I didn’t get a photo of the package, or even a particularly good photo of the candy.)
It’s a white cake center with a white chocolate coating, so the notes are pretty much vanilla and sugar. The center is a bit softer than the Birthday Cake, though still has the sugary grain to it. It’s just slightly fluffed but has an overall milky sweet flavor and a hint of the raw flour.
It was far too sweet with no actual purpose to it. The idea of wedding cake that’s all white with white frosting and no note of raspberry or marzipan is actually kind of foreign to me. This taste more like grocery store sheet cake ... which is not something I think anyone strives to emulate. I’m sure there are some super-sweet-toothers who will enjoy this, but I think it as was just too sweet and one-note.
The cake thing is lost on me. I don’t mind when things go back to the source of why we made it a cake flavor in the first place, like taking the flavor elements of coconut and chocolate and caramel from a German Chocolate Cake ... but yellow cake can stay in the realm of baked goods from no on.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Candy Corn gets a lot of different flavor treatments for Halloween, but for the most part the Easter versions are all about little spring shapes in the form of mellocreams in light fruity flavors. Brach’s has introduced something new to go with their Pastel Candy Corn, it’s called Brach’s Carrot Cake Candy Corn.
The packaging is simple, just a thick plastic bag. The image on the front depicts a cake with white frosting and a green and orange carrot on it. Down in the other corner is a small basket of the candy corns.
As a side note, Brach’s, the 110 year old candy company, has been going through a lot of changes lately; this seems to have led to an identity crisis. I picked up this bag of candy last month which is also a new product but features a different logo which I thought they stopped using around 2011 (but also appears on their twitter). Brach’s is now owned by the Ferrara Candy Company, which merged with Farley’s & Sathers last year. This is a huge company now that makes mostly sugar candy like Trolli, Lemonheads, Atomic Fireballs, Black Forest Gummies, Now & Later, Rainblo Gum, Jujyfruits, Chuckles, Bob’s and Fruit Stripe Gum. It seems like this constant change and shift of directions is keeping Brach’s from regaining their place in the world of classic American comfort candies.
My first instinct on these, without even eating them, is that the colors are all wrong. A slice of layered cake would be a sort of light brown color with flecks of orange and then the off white cream cheese frosting. There is no green in a carrot cake, unless you make some of the frosting green. If they wanted the candy corn to just look like carrots, then make them all orange with the wide base getting just a touch of green to simulate the carrot top. To simulate a slice of cake, I’d make the top and bottom white and the center orange. Why it’s candy corn is an entirely other matter ... why not make little slide of cake shapes? Brach’s already makes cute little shapes for their Halloween and Easter Mellocreme mixes ... why not a slice of cake or little carrots or a block of Philly Cream Cheese?
While I had some misgivings about the coloration, everything else about these is extremely well done. Unlike my problems with the Brach’s S’mores Candy Corn last fall, which were quite broken and brittle, these looked great right out of the bag. I saw very few malformed or incomplete kernels and they stayed in one piece for the most part.
They didn’t smell like much, and honestly I didn’t think much of them the first few I tried. I noticed, though, that the base had a mild spice cake flavor to it, it’s subtle but there’s a note of cinnamon and nutmeg. The overall piece had a slightly creamier note, with what I can only guess is supposed to be a cream cheese flavor. Again, it’s very subtle.
I had to compare the mild flavor to regular candy corn, naturally, so I picked up the Brach’s Pastel Candy Corn, since they were on sale 2 for $5. These are much more subtly colored, with only the corn base getting a pastel note of green, pink, purple, green, or yellow. I enjoyed these, particularly because there was less artificial coloring in them, so the clean flavor of sugar and a touch of honey came through a bit brighter than in the fall version which has more orange (and Red #40) in it. I did notice that some of the flavors, like the cream cheese twang was missing, so it wasn’t something I dreamed up. I also noticed on the nutrition panel that the Pastel Corn has more salt in it, 100 mg per serving compared to 70 mg for the Carrot Cake.
I liked the Pastel Candy Corn, but I liked the Carrot Cake Candy Corn better, perhaps because there was a vague flavor to it. Is it a successful simulation of cake? Not by a long shot, but taken as a candy on its own without its bakery reference, it’s quite pleasant.
Like other Brach’s candy corn, this is made in Mexico. It does have honey as an ingredients, as well as gelatin, so this is unsuitable for vegetarians. It’s made in a facility that also processes milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat and soy.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
The wrapper is pink and the launch of the product coincides with spring, so I’m going to call it an Easter candy even though there are no rabbits on the package, just a couple of pasty kids in chef’s hats making some sort of bowl of batter.
It weighs a quarter of a pound, which is giant compared to the mini foil wrapped peanut butter cups R.M. Palmer usually makes, but it’s not as large as the half pound peanut butter cups that Reese’s sells in pairs around Christmas. But this isn’t peanut butter, where most of us think more is better. This is cake batter, which is pretty much a room temperature cookie dough smoothie.
The cup is huge, at a quarter of a pound, it’s the size of a small saucer and weighs, well, four ounces. This is not R.M. Palmer’s first attempt at a quarter pound cup, they make a passable Peanut Butter Cup version. The package says that it’s two servings, but that’s a staggering thought when I looked at the ingredients:
The chocolate flavored coating looks like bad chocolate, but that’s about the only thing that it succeeds at. There are no chocolate notes in it, it has no chocolate texture, it’s filled with sugar, milk by-products and oils. The filling isn’t like the Russell Stover cake fillings, there’s no flour in there; it’s just more oil and sugar and fake vanilla.
I’ve never been much for eating cake batter, so the idea of a candy that re-creates this is not up my alley. Add to that, vanilla cake is the least interesting kind of cake. Why would I want to eat that batter? Spice cake, lemon pound cake, devil’s food ... these are interesting. Vanilla cake batter is not.
Monday, February 24, 2014
One of the favorite Easter candies is the Cadbury Milk Chocolate Mini Eggs. They’re unlike any other candy on the market, they’re not quite M&Ms, as the candy coating is soft and has a flavor of its own. A Dark Chocolate version came out a few years ago and though hard to find, returned again this year.
The big news is the new Target Exclusive version of Cadbury White Mini Eggs. Notice that they’re just called white, not white chocolate, just white. Though there is cocoa butter in the ingredients list (which is in real white chocolate), there are also other vegetable fats. I picked up a 9 ounce bag, which was helpfully on sale.
The eggs were not the shape I expected. The standard Cadbury Mini Egg is egg shaped, truly egg shaped, with a wider bottom and almost pointy top. The White Eggs are not, they’re symmetrical ovals. What occurred to me when I saw them was that they were actually a resurrection of last year’s Hershey’s White Chocolate Flavored Eggs.
So, I looked up the ingredients:
The difference, as far as I can tell is in the very last ingredients, that make up the shell. The white confection center is made of the same stuff. I didn’t care that much for the Hershey’s version, as I found them to be a bit too sweet and not creamy enough. Especially when compared to the pre-existing real white chocolate M&Ms.
I picked up a back of the M&Ms since I was already at Target for comparison. (And here’s the ingredients, as long as I’m transcribing.)
Ultimately, the coating on these really gives them a different dimension. The soft and matte shell that the Cadbury Milk Chocolate Mini Eggs and the Cadbury White Mini Eggs share is unique and holds a special place in the textural world of Easter. I like the soft scent and interesting slick dissolve on the tongue. The vanilla pudding flavor is also pleasant and goes well with the lightly salty white center.
The one thing that was missing was that sticky, fudgy melt that the Cadbury Milk Chocolate Mini Eggs have.
I liked them better than the Hershey’s version, which is weird, because I do actually like the shell a lot on the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Eggs. However, they’re extremely sweet and I found that after five or six I had a raging headache ... so enjoy in moderation.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.